Trans-fats are probably the worst fats for you. A trans-fat is a normal fat molecule that has been distorted during a process called hydrogenation. During this process, liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas. If you eat trans-fat (which let’s face it, most of us do) and your diet doesn’t include enough of the good fats, your body will use the deformed trans-fats instead, which could possibly contribute to major health risks from heart disease to cancer.
So why are trans fatty acids (TFAs) so prevalent in commercial foods? Partially hydrogenated oils (from the hydrogenation process) are more stable (less likely to spoil), can be transported more easily, and can withstand repeated heating, which makes them perfect for frying up those French fries and burgers at your favorite fast food establishment.
Trans-fats may be found in foods like:
- Baked Goods — cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and some breads like hamburger buns
- Fried foods — doughnuts, French fries, fried chicken including chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
- Snack foods — potato, corn, and tortilla chips; candy; packaged or microwave popcorn.
- Solid fats — Hard margarine (stick margarine) and semi solid vegetable shortening.
- Pre-mixed products — cake mix, pancake mix, and chocolate drink mix.
Trans-fats tend to raise total LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (good cholesterol). This can contribute to major health problems, from heart disease to cancer. No amount of trans-fat is healthy, and should be kept below 1 percent of your total calories.
Things to Look For When Shopping/Eating Out
- When shopping, read the labels and watch out for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients. Even if the food claims to be trans-fat free, this ingredient tells you that the product is a trans-fat suspect.
- When eating out, put fried foods, biscuits, and other baked goods on your “skip” list. Avoid these products unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans-fat
- Most states have no labeling regulations for fast food, and it can even be advertised as cholesterol-free and cooked in vegetable oil. Eating one doughnut at breakfast (3.2 g of TFA) and a large order of french fries at lunch (6.8 g of TFA) adds 10 grams of TFA to one’s diet, according to the American Heart Association.
- Some cities (i.e. NYC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston), as well as the state of California, have banned trans-fats in restaurants. This has caused some big chains to start to move away from using trans-fats.